Microsoft Ends Forced Arbitration For Sexual Harassment Claims

Some believe the agreements help perpetuate sexual abuse in the workplace.

REDMOND, WASHINGTON: A building on the Microsoft Headquarters campus Credit: (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Following a year where many powerful men in entertainment, technology, and politics were accused of and/or toppled by sexual assault allegations, Microsoft is making some permanent changes in its workplace policy.

The corporation is ending forced arbitration agreements with employees who file sexual harassment claims, according to The New York Times. It also supports a proposed federal law introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Lindsey Graham that seeks to ban such agreements. Forced arbitration prevents people from seeking legal action against a company, and many believe it helps sustain sexual misconduct in the workplace.

"The silencing of people's voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment,” Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith told The New York Times in a phone interview.

Some women in the technology world are celebrating Microsoft's decision today, including former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao. Her tumultuous time at the website, along with a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, sparked debates on the tech industry's treatment of women. She calls Microsoft's actions on Twitter "a small step forward."

In a recent blog post, Smith says Microsoft has never enforced an arbitration provision relating to sexual harassment, and the company prides itself on having an open-door policy that encourages employees to raise concerns. But, it also found a small segment of its workforce did have contractual clauses requiring pre-dispute arbitration for harassment claims.

"We concluded that if we were to advocate for legislation ending arbitration requirements for sexual harassment, we should not have a contractual requirement for our own employees that would obligate them to arbitrate sexual harassment claims," Smith said. "And we should act immediately and not wait for a new law to be passed."